Oscar-nominated director John Madden’s career has taken interesting twists and turns since “Shakespeare in Love” won best picture in 1999.
He is unpredictable in the projects he chooses like “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and his first time working with a relatively new Jessica Chastain in “The Debt”.
“Miss Sloane” is a rare and unusual film in many ways, one being how quickly it was fast tracked from screenplay blacklist to production. Madden personally delivered the script — by first time screenwriter Jonathan Perera — to Chastain himself, she was the only choice. Six years ago, Chastain (“The Help,” “Interstellar”) was barely on any radar, now she is one of the most commanding actors working in mainstream film. “Miss Sloane” is yet another example how the two-time Oscar nominee can single-handedly elevate a feature film.
Lobbying is defined as the act of attempting to influence the actions, policies or decisions of officials in a government. Elizabeth Sloane (Chastain) is a fast-paced, notoriously ruthless and highly efficient lobbyist for hire. She recently left her firm, dealing with a palm oil trade agreement, joining a smaller company trying to sway enough congressmen to vote for a bill that would enforce stricter background checks on weapon sales. Sloane has strict rules she abides by, she has no personal connections, no family, and will throw her partners and colleagues under a bus if it helps her win. She admits she doesn’t know where the line is, but she always protects her interests. The fast-talking, manipulative redhead on the hill has a lot of NRA members angry, sweaty and determined to take her down no matter what the cost.
Perera’s dialogue-driven script is a whirlwind of legal jargon and technical talk. It’s easy to get lost in the plot, especially when our fearless lead character never stops speaking. “Miss Sloane” is a backloaded film that has a huge pay off, the most satisfying and explosive ending of the year, but you must work along with the film to get there. It has the musings and sensibilities of Michael Mann’s “The Insider,” although not as cohesively brilliant and structured, and it has the investigation feel of “Truth” from last year. Chastain is the driving force. Everything, I mean everything, relies on her playing this character you despise one minute and admire the next. Morality and ethics are a battlefield for Sloane.
The concept of Sloane doing everything a male character would is certainly one of the focal points, even having her releasing stress with a male prostitute. It’s one of the most fascinating and unconventional roles of the year and Chastain plays it with an unmatched dramatic brutality. The editing is razor sharp and cut us back and forth between informative flashbacks and the acquisition Sloane finds herself in. Having played the strong, silent type in “Zero Dark Thirty,” this is Chastain unhinged, the female shark. The supporting performances are completely drowned out by Chastain’s award-worthy performance, even the few scenes where she doesn’t appear feel like a momentary power outage. The twists and turns of the script are good enough to sustain the suspense for those keeping up, but 100 percent attention is required on this one for all the pieces to line up and deliver the planned effect.
Final thought: Chastain explodes on the screen in her most vehement performance to date.